Sometimes, I pull my hair out. I'll search my head for hairs that don't feel right, and I'll pull them out, throwing them away. I don't want to pull them out. I mean, sometimes I want to pull them out, but I don't know why. Sometimes it feels kind of relieving...like I've found something that isn't supposed to be there and I've tidied it up. Sometimes I don't even realize I'm doing it. And sometimes it feels shameful. I catch myself in the act and a wave of embarrassment washes through me for doing it. "Why am I doing this thing that I don't want to do," I think. This happens all throughout my day: worry, relief, embarrassment, worry, relief, embarrassment. It's a perfect layer-cake of anxiety. If I were to frost this cake and pipe a pink icing name across it, it would be "trichotillomania". That's the name of this anxious "compulsion" or, more technically, disorder.
The farthest back I can remember pulling my hair was in college. It's possible that I've done it before that, but I don't really remember. My earliest memories of this disorder were reading through college textbooks in my dorm room, curled into a ball of stress, and pulling out hair by hair by hair by hair. And while my circumstances and stressors have changed, I still do it today. Every day. It's embarrassing. The hair-littered clothes and furniture around my apartment and cubicle; the vacuum cleaners whose brushes get stuck with hair; clumps of hair in the trashcan: all screaming that something is wrong with me. But, for the longest time, I didn't know what it was.
For the past two weeks, my theme in dealing with my own mental illness has been "breakthroughs": those moments when you gain a clearer understanding of yourself and the world around you. Sometimes just putting a name to something can be its own kind of breakthrough. That's what happened to me when I was diagnosed with trichotillomania: learning that name gave me a new kind of understanding.
While I've been pulling my hair out for a long time now, I'm only just beginning to learn why and what it is that I'm doing. I was diagnosed with the disorder a few months ago. I don't have any helpful answers or anecdotes yet...only that it's so uncommon that the world of psychiatry has yet to wrap their head around it, too. In the short amount of time that I've been diagnosed, I've tried a few unsuccessful ways to try to manage it: vitamins, finding objects for my hands to fidget with instead, and even antipsychotics (that was a short-lived, not fun option). I'm guessing that something like behavioral therapy might help in the future; but it will be a process of finding something that works. Instead of trying to fix it right now, though, I'm trying to be okay with it...to be okay with me...disorder and all.
(Post script after the jump)
Clearly, trichotillomania is something I'm still learning about. If you'd like to learn more, too, www.trich.org is a good place to start. If you have any questions for me about my experience with the disorder, you can either leave them in the comments or email me at email@example.com.
And now, my song of the week...